New records being broken as new developments arise.
When Camoin Associates studied the potential economic impact of the Walkway Over the Hudson in 2007, they used a projected attendance figure of 267,000 visits a year. Even, at those numbers, the predictions were positive; the Walkway State Historic Park draws more like half a million visits a year—and those are just the ones who bother to sign in.
And why not? The longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world (the former railroad span is 1.28 miles long), the Walkway is an outstanding place to do all sorts of things. Its incomparable advantages for viewing fireworks or hot air balloon races are obvious, but under the stewardship of Walkway Executive Director Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart, the park’s programming has been a glorious patchwork of any and every good thing people can think of to do 212 feet above the Hudson River. Art shows, pet shows, menorah lightings, stargazing and the Hokey Pokey are but a few of the ideas that have been brought to life. Celebrations of everything from Halloween to International Women’s Day have been enhanced by the spectacular setting.
The Hokey Pokey shindig was literally a world-class success, breaking the Guinness World Record for line dance length, and was such fun that a variation is planned for May 4, which happens to be I Love My Park Day. “Not the Hokey Pokey this time,” says Waldstein-Hart. “We’re going to have a line of people doing a series of steps choreographed by Livia Vanaver of Vanaver Caravan… I Love My Park Day is a day for people to come out and enjoy, to launch the season. The I Love NY people are very supportive—all 3,000 people will be asked to don I Love New York T-shirts, and we’re reproducing the original I Love NY song so that it works with our record-breaking dance effort.
“And Guinness will be here again, which makes it fun; it’s something some people just like to cross off their bucket lists. The sound will be better this year—Cumulus Media and WEOK will be broadcasting live, and we’re asking people to bring AM radios and play the broadcast. Last year, talking to the Guinness staff, they said it was so lovely—2,500 people happy and smiling and into it. It was a wonderful gathering—all of that positive energy.”
Yet another dramatically uplifting element is scheduled to be added to the Walkway experience in 2013, as construction begins on an elevator that will glide visitors smoothly and spectacularly from Water Street in Poughkeepsie to the walkway deck. Funded by a $2.4 million federal grant obtained by Walkway Over the Hudson with support from retired Congressman and Walkway booster Maurice Hinchey and administered through the New York State Department of Transportation, the 21-story elevator will add yet another spectacular component to the Walkway experience.
“Designing and engineering it has taken longer than anticipated,” says Waldstein-Hart, “partially because we needed a unique design. Outdoor elevators are normally found in amusement parks or in construction environments, huge skyscrapers for example. The design needed to be adapted and customized for this unique facility. It needs to be industrial in its ability to carry people 21 stories on a routine basis, but beautiful and fun.
“We’re going to get it right, and all the players are working together—NYSDOT, the Parks Department, and BCI Construction out of Albany. It takes time, but we’re still on track for a fall opening in 2013, although there’s no exact date yet. Like a lot of people, I’m just waiting for the final schedule to come out, any day now. BCI has made improvements—revisions and tweaks for a better experience. Those have been submitted to the DOT, and subsequently approved.
“A great deal of the construction is being done off site, over the summer, with installation in late summer or early fall followed by testing and final tweaking; right now we’re hoping to have the grand opening in October. It probably won’t be open full time the first winter—we’ll open for the rest of the 2013 season, see how it goes, and reevaluate.
“We don’t know exactly how we’re approaching the opening yet, but it’s going to be fun adding it to our programming. The possibilities…we could do seniors’ days, school group days. Maybe we could bring in a hypnotherapist and use it as a tool for helping people with acrophobia.”
The 90-second ride will be free for visitors, and will be an easy connection to the Poughkeepsie Metro-North station. And it’s only the most dramatic of several planned improvements in access and connectivity.
“We have a number of projects in the works,” says Waldstein-Hart. “We will be connecting with the Dutchess Rail Trail, and adding visitor centers and bathrooms on both ends.” The neighborhood near the entrance on the Poughkeepsie side is well-served by restaurants, cafes, and pubs, their viability much enhanced by the Walkway’s drawing power; the Walkway organization and parks folks have issued a call for new vendors to serve visitors at both entry points.
From Highland, visitors will be able to access yet another trail network that can take them to New Paltz—and from there, eventually on to Rosendale, where yet another trestle (the Wallkill Valley Railroad span with its exquisite views of the Rondout Creek and the town’s central hamlet) is on track, so to speak, to open to the public in June, a sort of kid brother to the Walkway. Ultimately, bicyclists and walkers will be able to go from Hopewell Junction to Kingston—a journey that offers access to quite a few fine attractions along the way.
The grand vision has been embraced by local government. Waterfront improvements on the east end are integrated as part of the Waterfront Redevelopment Strategy and Rezoning Project being undertaken by the county and the city of Poughkeepsie. Funded privately by the Dyson Foundation, that effort will include plans for major park improvements, green infrastructure initiatives, an economic feasibility and financing analysis, phasing steps, and draft waterfront rezoning “to fully position the area for subsequent implementation,” according to a Dutchess County press release. Lloyd, too, is involved in rezoning to better leverage its Walkway access. Stakeholder meetings on the strategy have drawn 100 participants, and Waldstein-Hart couldn’t be more thrilled.
“People from all over the world come here to walk and enjoy,” she says, “and we are working on collaborative marketing and branding, while doing a lot of things for fun. In the three years I’ve been working here, there have been so many amazing moments. I went out there with a Poughkeepsie native and she was amazed. She said, “Every time I’m out here, I meet new people I’ve never encountered in decades of living here.”
There are no plans to institute a user fee for access to the Walkway, although nominal fees are charged for some of the special events held. “Over time, as we develop the visitor centers, we’ll look at ways to generate revenue and enhance our endowment for long-term stewardship and repairs,” says Waldstein-Hart. “We’ll do our part and the Parks Department and NYS Bridge Authority will do theirs.”
As spring unfolds into summer and we’re all looking for recreational opportunities, stay tuned for more exciting events at walkway.org.